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Loh Kean Yew gets tough World Tour Finals draw

BANGKOK – Singapore’s top badminton player Loh Kean Yew dodged world No. 1 Viktor Axelsen for his first Badminton World Federation (BWF) World Tour Finals group stage, but still has a mountain to climb to get out of Group B.

At the draw held at the Centara Grand in the Thai capital on Monday, the world No. 3 was drawn in a group comprising top-10 players, who had an extra two weeks’ rest while Loh had to compete at the Australian Open in November to secure qualification.

The 25-year-old will meet Taiwanese world No. 4 Chou Tien-chen and Indonesia’s world No. 5 Jonatan Christie and seventh-ranked Anthony Sinisuka Ginting.

Meanwhile in Group A, defending champion Axelsen, who is also the reigning Olympic champion, had the rub of the green as he will face players outside the top 10 – India’s world No. 12 H.S. Prannoy, Japan’s Kodai Naraoka (14) and China’s Lu Guangzu (17).

The top two from each group proceed to the semi-finals.

Ever jovial, Loh said: “I have never put too much hope in my luck with tournament draws because it’s rarely good. So, I guess I’ll have to do it the hard way.

“To be fair, (whoever is in) the World Tour Finals will be a strong player and the most consistent for the entire year, so there’s no easy group.

“This is my last tournament of the year. It’s been a tiring season but I’ll hang in there, and I’m looking forward to seeing how we will perform at this tournament.”

The US$1.5 million (S$2.03 million) BWF World Tour Finals, which features the year’s eight best performers in the singles and doubles, is from Wednesday to Sunday at the Nimibutr Arena in Bangkok. The tournament schedule will be released on Tuesday.

After stunning the badminton fraternity to win the world championship in 2021, Loh has had a fine first season playing a full complement of elite events.

On the BWF World Tour, he reached at least the quarter-finals in seven out of 11 tournaments, made one final and three other semi-finals to rise to a career-high ranking.

He can even climb to No. 2 if he wins the World Tour Finals, but does not want to get ahead of himself.

“I prefer not to overthink things, and just want to take it one match at a time,” he said.

National singles coach Kelvin Ho is confident Loh can give a good fight to his Group B opponents, despite having a generally disadvantageous head-to-head record against Chou (2-3), Christie (0-5) and Ginting (2-2).

He said: “I think it is a good draw because playing against the best can bring out the best in Kean Yew. He has a fighting chance for sure.

“He has the ability. It is whether he can go into the matches with the right and positive mentality.

“It is true that he has not beaten Jonatan, but the margins have been close.

“We won’t be making drastic changes, but we will analyse our opponents and improvise accordingly.”

The draw preceded the BWF annual awards in which Axelsen and Japan’s Akane Yamaguchi were crowned the Male and Female Players of the Year respectively.

After winning back-to-back awards, Axelsen, who also has five wins from nine World Tour events, said: “It feels good because this is a big thing and a result of a lot of hard work.

“After the French Open, I launched my book and then trained in Dubai. I have been able to maintain good condition and practise with no injuries, which is the most important thing. Hopefully my body will allow me to play at a high level here and I’m looking forward to getting started.”

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